The ballooning industry

March 30th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I have to say I am growing more and more unimpressed with the industry in New Zealand. After the horrific incident in the Wairarapa where 11 people burnt to death, they complained that the TAIC ordered safety checks on all balloons. They should have seen it as an opportunity to reassure people.

Then last weekend, we had another incident, luckily not fatal. Stuff reports:

A terrified passenger on a hot air balloon that hit trees yesterday said she thought about jumping to save herself.

An eyewitness, who did not want to be named, said he heard screaming from the 18 passengers as the balloon, operated by Up Up and Away, was hit by a strong wind gust and tore on trees while trying to land in North Canterbury about 8am. …

Savannah Hyssong was riding with her partner: “At least half the balloon hit the tree, and the basket was also in the trees. There were massive holes. It freaked me out. The only thing I was thinking was should I jump out and grab a branch.”

A 7-year-old girl was crying during the ordeal, and her father was hit on the head by a branch, Hyssong said. “There were sudden screams of panic. I think a lot of people were terrified.”

In the final attempt at landing, the balloon hit the ground “really hard” and bounced back up, and the basket tipped over, she said.

“We all landed on our backs. It was insane. Freaky – scary as hell. That’s not the way it is supposed to be. After we landed there were still huge pieces of tree stuck in the balloon.

Sounds pretty messy to say the least. But what is the reaction of the company:

A spokeswoman for Up Up and Away, who would not be named, said there was “no forced landing” and “no incident”.

“There was no risk to passengers, no emergency landing, no forced landing. They did a landing under standard procedure. There was a small tear that did not compromise the safety or the air-worthiness of the balloon.”

That sort of response concerns me, and in fact I’d never use that company based on their labeling this as no incident.

A HoS story also said:

 Meanwhile, a Levin balloonist says an investigation into the Carterton crash that killed pilot Lance Hopping and 10 passengers in January is taking too long and was almost certainly the pilot’s fault.

Again, this concerns me. The industry should be demanding the investigation is as thorough as possible, not demanding it cut corners, and just blame it all on the pilot.

5 Responses to “The ballooning industry”

  1. brucehoult (230 comments) says:

    Balloons are ridiculous things! I was offered a ride in the Carterton one last winter, and turned it down.

    The flight I turned down also happened to go through a tree top on the landing approach, and tipped the occupants out on touch down. Not impressed.

    They are utterly at the mercy of the wind and gusts. They normally fly in calm conditions, but commercial operators have commercial pressures. They have only one control, which they respond to on a time scale measured in minutes. They are built of delicate and flammable materials, and carry a large amount of fuel and an open-air burner. The per hour running costs (primarily for envelope replacement) are hundred of dollars an hour.

    I’m not some stay-on-the-ground ultra risk averse person. I ride a bicycle and motorcycle in Wellington suburbs. I also fly (and teach people to fly) gliders.

    The differences are pretty big. They’re made of sturdy materials, bolted solidly together. The ones I mostly fly have a speed range from 70 km/h to 270 km/h and can fly safely and make progress against winds of 100 km/h (it’s better to have less than 70 km/h winds on the ground after you land…). They have no engine and so no fuel and no source of ignition (other than a battery to run the radio), but have exactly the same powerful and fast-acting controls as any fixed-wing aircraft. If necessary, a safe landing can be made in any 100m-200m long open space. The purchase price is high at maybe $150k but they last 40+ years (no one knows yet) with minor maintenance. If you don’t run into another aircraft or solid ground then they are extremely safe. Not quite car-safe but better-than-motorcycle safe.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. Scott Hamilton (801 comments) says:

    It’s as though we’re returning to the pioneer days of ballooning in this country

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. Brian Smaller (4,333 comments) says:

    Hang on – don’t people ever watch TV and have never seen balloon baskets tipping over on landing and so on? While it is relatively safe, there are accidents. They don’t always land in open fields. And besides, any landing that you can walk away from is a good one.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. DJP6-25 (1,830 comments) says:

    Brian Smaller 11:07am. …. And if you can use the aircraft afterwards, it’s a bonus.


    David Prosser

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. mara (1,253 comments) says:

    “any landing that you can walk away from is a good one.” Sums up ballooning really. Silly, silly business.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote